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Big Dance Journal, Thurs., Mar. 17

   by Larry Ness - 03/17/2016

Big Dance Journal (Thursday, Mar 17)

The 2016 NCAA Tournament opened Tuesday night with a pair of blowouts (Florida Gulf Coast won by 31 points and Wichita St by 20) but while Wednesday’s games were hardly well-played classics, they did produce two close finishes. Holy Cross, the 25th team to enter the NCAA Tourney with a sub-.500 record, provided this year’s first upset (albeit a minor one), taking down Southern 59-55 as a 2 1/2-point underdog. The Crusaders ended a NINE-game NCAA Tourney losing streak by winning for the first time since 1953! The now 15-19 Crusaders must fly to Spokane to take on the West’s No. 1 seed (Oregon) on Friday but Holy Cross will take a five-game winning streak into that contest, with FOUR of those wins coming by five points or less.

Tulsa and Michigan, two questionable at-large selections (especially Tulsa), met in Wednesday’s second game and while the Wolverines took a 28-20 halftime lead, the Golden Hurricane led 62-60 with just about a minute to go. However, Zack Irvin’s three-pointer with 55 seconds left jump started an 8-2 game-ending run as Michigan (minus-2) prevailed 67-62 to advance as an 11-seed. Michigan now meets 6th-seeded Notre Dame on Friday. Favorites went 3-1 SU and ATS in First Four games and after Florida Gulf Coast’s 96-point effort produced an ‘over’ in the first game of the 2016 tourney, the next three games all went ‘under,’ averaging a modest 121.0 PPG.

There are 16 games slated for Thursday, with THREE of the four No. 1 seeds in action. All are aware that 16-seeds are 0-for-124 all-time and while it was noted on Sunday’s Selection Sunday show that this year’s four No. 1 seeds have a combined 23 losses (the most-ever since 1984 when the field expanded to 64 teams), it’s still difficult to imagine any of this year’s 16-seeds winning.The RPI was first introduced in 1994 and this year’s four No. 16 seeds have a combined rating of 201.3, the second-worst since 2004. In that season, No. 1 seeds beat the No. 16 seeds by an average of 25 PPG!

Holy Cross (15-19) will play Oregon on Friday (no line yet) but Kansas is a 26-point choice over 18-17 Austin Peay, North Carolina a 22-point choice over 21-13 Florida Gulf Coast and Virginia a 24-point choice over 21-10 Hampton in Thursday contests. I guess it’s inevitable that a No. 16 seed will one day beat a No. 1 seed (remember, everything is true or a sure thing until it isn’t!), the addition of the shot-clock (this year lowered to 30 seconds), makes a repeat of Princeton’s near upset of Georgetown back in 1989, much less likely. The Tigers lost that game 50-49, holding the Hoyas to 30 points under their seasonal scoring average of points per game! No shot clock was a HUGE reason.

No. 15 seeds are just 7-117 in the first round, No. 14 seeds 20-104 and No. 13 seeds 25-99. The 12 vs 5-seed matchups (44-80) and the 11 vs 6-seed matchups (43-81) draw the most upset possibilities. The rule of thumb established for an NCAA Tourney “upset” has been defined as a team beating an opponent seeded FIVE spots lower or higher, if one wants to look at it that way, than its opponent (Archie Bunker would say, “whatever!”). History shows that 20 of the 44 No. 12 seeds to win their first game have won a second game, advancing to the Sweet 16. However, just ONE of those 20 (Missouri over UCLA in 2002) was able to advance to a Regional Final (Elite-8). Note that Missouri would lose to Oklahoma (a No. 2 seed) in the West Regional final that year.

No. 11 seeds have had better luck in the later rounds than No. 12 seeds. Eighteen of the 43 first-round winner have made it to the Sweet 16, with SIX of them moving on to the Elite-8. THREE of those six have won a Regional Final, advancing to the Final Four by beating a No. 1 seed, although each lost in the national semifinals. The first 11-seed to reach the Final 4 was LSU in 1986, beating Kentucky 59-57. George Mason did it in 2006, edging UConn 86-84 in OT and VCU beat Kansas 71-61 in 2011.

Looking at Thursday’s schedule finds three 5 vs 12 games. Indiana is a 12-point choice over Chattanooga and Purdue is a nine-point choice over Arkansas-LR but Baylor is just a five-point favorite over Yale (1st NCAA appearance since 1962). There are two 6 vs 11 games and Arizona is a modest two-point pick over Wichita St. More notably, 11th-seeded Gonzaga (in making its 18th straight NCAA appearance) is currently a 1 1/2-point choice over 6th-seeded Seton Hall (so much for getting any respect for knocking off Villanova, which entered the Big East Tourney ranked No. 3 in the AP poll!).

Friday’s journal available by 10:00 ET in the morning.

Good luck...Larry

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